Defense attorney asks judge to remove San Diego District Attorney from antifa conspiracy case
A new motion filed in the conspiracy case against anti-fascists in San Diego says the District Attorney's office should be removed from the case because prosecutors ignored violent assaults from right-wing protesters in order to prosecute those from the left.
The DA's office charged 11 self-described anti-fascists with conspiracy to riot and several individual felony charges after they counter-protested a pro-Trump rally in Pacific Beach on Jan. 9, 2021, three days after the violent insurrection at the Capitol.
Videos shared online showed anti-fascists clad in black and pro-Trump demonstrators engaged in violent assaults. Some pro-Trump supporters were also members of the Proud Boys and American Guard groups.
The Proud Boys have been labelled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Anti-Defamation League calls American Guard a "hardcore white supremacist" group.
One video showed an individual marching with Trump supporters performing a Nazi salute. Another person lobs a smoke grenade toward anti-fascists from a line of police officers before retreating back behind the police line.
Others follow and attack a man in a George Floyd t-shirt in an alley. One man sucker-punches him, another pounces and begins punching him on the ground.
However, only anti-fascists were charged in the case.
In a sprawling 243-page motion filed Tuesday, defense attorney Curtis Briggs says DA Summer Stephan has for years ignored violence from members of the American Guard and other far-right extremists in San Diego County.
"The San Diego District Attorney's office has had a pattern over the last five to six years of ignoring violent acts by white extremists, hate groups (and) white nationalists," Briggs said. "So they've been able to run around basically with a get-out-of-jail-free card — beat up people, cause fights, provoke fights … at protests."
Briggs represents Jeremy White, an anti-fascist activist charged with conspiracy to riot and assault. White pleaded not guilty. Briggs said his client didn't conspire with anyone nor did he attack his alleged victim.
Several of those charged have already pleaded guilty, with the remaining scheduled for trial early next year.
Briggs said Stephan's conservative politics have tainted this case.
During her 2018 campaign, Stephan published a website called "Threat to San Diego" that featured an image of billionaire George Soros superimposed on pictures of anti-fascist protesters. At the time, Soros — a Democratic donor — was contributing to several reform-minded DA candidates, including Stephan's opponent.
Briggs' motion also includes several videos pulled from the internet that show far-right activists engaging in violent attacks against demonstrators across San Diego County.
The San Diego District Attorney's Office didn't respond to emailed questions or a request for comment.
Activist Will Johnson said he was among several activists attacked by white supremacists in 2017 near the border wall prototypes erected in Otay Mesa. Video shared online show people affiliated with the American Guard menacing then beating anti-Trump demonstrators with poles and fists — all under the watch of a line of deputies.
"They wouldn't leave us alone," Johnson said in an interview about the attack. "I was surrounded by them — they were screaming ... in my face."
One of the attackers struck Johnson with a flagpole and another began punching him in the face, he said. Other demonstrators were taken to the ground and punched, video shows.
Victims reported the incident to the Sheriff's Department, Johnson said, and the incident was sent to the DA's office. However, no one was ever charged, Johnson said.
Tasha Williamson, a prominent activist in San Diego's racial justice movement, told KPBS in an interview she's faced harassment for years from far-right groups in San Diego, including the white supremacists of the American Guard.
Williamson, who is Black, said that despite raising the alarm about the danger represented by these groups, law enforcement hasn't done anything to address the threat.
"We've seen them carrying weapons, we've seen them use their vehicles to attempt to run people over ... we've seen them attack people," Williamson said. "We've seen them use the n-word repeatedly or tell us that we don't belong here. We've seen a number of things that have gone on without consequences or accountability."
Johnson said he's been frustrated watching some of the same people who attacked him go on to attack others at protests in Berkeley, Yorba Linda and El Cajon.
"I mean it's my understanding that, you know, if you get assaulted, then the people who assault you should go to jail, get fined, get some kind of punishment," Johnson said. "What I saw was that these guys were let free to go do it again and again and again."
Briggs claims members of the American Guard are among the victims in Stephan's case and that although prosecutors only used their initials in court filings that they are known in the community — some even publish videos of their actions at protests online.
One of the victims, Briggs said, live-streamed the Pacific Beach incident to his online audience.
"He puts on a pair of Kevlar gloves," Briggs said, describing the live-streamed video. "He says, 'These are Kevlar gloves. I'm gonna break their teeth out. I'm going to knock antifa's teeth out.'"
In 2020, Briggs was successful in a similar case when the San Luis Obispo DA charged a Black Lives Matter organizer with conspiracy after a group of protesters blocked a highway. The DA was removed from the case and this year the California Attorney General dropped the charges against Briggs' client.